The start of the 1940s, following the unemployment of the previous decade and the outbreak of World War II, did not look promising for the Union. Membership dropped below 7000 in 1941, a result of the number of musicians being called up for service. Many of those, as well as some who remained working in London, lost their lives during the course of World War II. However, the later part of the decade saw the Union revived, with a huge appetite for musical entertainment in the post-War years seeing both employment and membership increase, with membership quadrupling over the course of the decade.

This, of course, greatly strengthened the Union’s negotiating hand and deals that were struck with Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL) and the BBC, which were to be of huge importance later.


The perennial issues of foreign musicians returned to the fore with the visit of the Vienna Philharmonic, but the major issue facing the Union by the end of the decade is the growing impact of recorded music, especially public performances of it. The Union, in conjunction with PPL, did everything it could to restrict and control the broadcast and public performance of recorded music (both on radio and in public places) on the grounds that it eradicates paid work for live music both on the radio and in dance halls.

As musicians increasingly travelled the world, there were some signs of a weakening of the restrictions on foreign musicians, while the MU also supported the American union’s (AFM) recording ban by preventing US artists relocating to the UK to record.

The Union In Numbers

A survey of MU members in 1946 estimates that there are 27 701 musicians in the UK (MU membership was 16 531) with a high concentration of members in broadcasting, orchestras and theatres and music halls. Sources of casual engagements – ice rinks, night clubs and cafes and restaurants had a lower % of Union members.

Union membership dropped to 6871 in 1941 but by the end of the decade had quadrupled to its highest ever level of 27323.

Key Dates


Several well known musicians killed in the blitz including Al Bowlly and Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, who died in a direct hit on the Café de Paris where he was playing with his West Indian Dance Orchestra on 8th March.


The AFM announces a ban on musicians recording in the USA in order to ensure musicians received a royalty of up to 5 cents on each record sold. Dispute was not fully resolved for 27 months.


Musicians’ Union formally affiliates with the Labour Party.


The Biennial Delegate Conference – the first after the end of the War – suggests a change in the Union’s outlook. It votes in favour of “the reciprocal exchange of orchestras, dance bands and music of the various countries” as well as the formation of a World Federation of Musicians.


The Union and the BBC agree a new one year deal on the use of recorded music, which forbade the BBC repeating programmes which exclusively featured music in the UK, but allowed – with many limitations – them to do so overseas in return for additional payment for musicians.

The Union reaches agreement with PPL on both restrictions on the use of recorded music and payment for it. The PPL was to pay the MU 10% of its revenues for the first two years (and backdated to 1st June 1945) and 12.5% of revenues from year 3 onwards. This coincided with the rearranging of the BBC’s radio networks and as a result “needle time” restrictions were introduced for the first time. These limited the number of hours of music (or at least music controlled by PPL) which can be played on each of the networks to 28 hours (on the Home and Light Programmes) and 30 hours on the (then) soon to be launched Cultural Programme. The number of permitted hours reduced in the second and third years of the agreement and these became a constant source of conflict between broadcasters, PPL and the Union until it ended in 1990.


More than 100 Union members protest outside the Royal Opera House over the employment of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the Vienna State Opera season. A.C. Mitchell, the Union’s general organiser was reportedly “incensed” that the Ministry of Labour had allowed the visit without consulting the Union and said: “we have had a job with the American jazz bands and if we allow this to continue we shall find the country flooded with American jazz bands again.”


Hardie Ratcliffe is elected General Secretary after defeating B.Newton-Brooke by 5561 votes to 3800.

The International Federation of Musicians (FIM) is formed – an international body of Musicians’ Unions – with William Batten as its first President.

A proposed visit to the UK by Dizzy Gillespie is not vetoed by the Union, on the condition “that it was of short duration and only visited a few concerts.” This decision was partly a result of pressure from musicians. Another US musician, Duke Ellington, played a number of shows, including the St.Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow on 13th July.

Attempts by The Andrews’ Sisters to record in London were thwarted by the Union not allowing members to participate in the sessions, which were intended to circumvent the recording ban imposed by James Petrillo, the leader of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) on the basis that they believed recordings reduced the income of musicians. Prior to the ban coming into effect, the record companies stockpile recordings by some of their biggest acts.

Former Bournemouth branch secretary, Kay Holmes, becomes the first woman to be elected to the Union’s Executive Committee. She serves for three years, before moving to New Zealand.


The Union expresses discontent over the Australian Musicians’ Union’s refusal to allow British musicians to join, shortly after they had allowed Australians to join. No immediate retaliatory measures were planned.

Attempts to bring Benny Goodman to play in London (with accompanying musicians, dancers and comedians, making it technically a “variety” show) are curtailed by the Union who insist on the American musicians being replaced by the Palladiums’ resident orchestra. The Union also vetoed attempts to bring Sidney Bechet and Coleman Hawkins to the UK, but the promoters ignored this and they appeared on stage unannounced. The promoters were subsequently fined for a breech of the Aliens Order (1920).

Concern grows among members about the increasing use of recorded music by venues to replace live performances. Agreement with PPL is reached based around the principle that PPL will not license music for public performance in instances where “a band or orchestra had previously been employed or for which a band or orchestra would normally and reasonably be employed.” (Executive Committee Report, 1949) Members were encouraged to report cases to the Union, who in turn contacted PPL, but this proved difficult to enforce.


First edition of The Musician – the Union’s new monthly publication for members.

A wage rise for musicians in touring and tented circuses – saw minimum salaries of £12, £10 and £9 10s for first trumpet, drummer and others. For this they were expected to take part in 12 performances (2 per day for 6 days) each week.

A dispute in Bournemouth over the Corporation’s employment of a military band at cut rates meant the town became “musically derelict” over eight weeks during the summer season.

2 MU delegates (Macnaghten and Edwards) attend the TUC conference of Unions including women in their membership. They vote for a motion for equal pay for women doing the same job as men, which is ultimately defeated.

North District complain that “an increasing number of members from other trade unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers – are entering the entertainment industry for financial gain, but are not becoming members of the MU, Equity or the VAF.”

Branches (North and East) complain about the increasing use of records in place of live entertainment.

A meeting of EC of the International Federation of Musicians, attended by Ratcliffe, details negotiations between musicians unions and the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) over receiving income from secondary (broadcast) uses of recorded music.

MU – along with Equity – oppose the affiliation of the Variety Artists’ Federation to the TUC.

The advent of long playing records resulted in the Union reconsidering “fees and conditions of musicians employed to record.”

Union is opposed to any increase on the 22 hours of recorded music that the BBC could use under agreement with the PPL : “and that the aim and policy of the Union was to obtain a further substantial reduction.”

EC decides not to reverse their policy of opposing the entry of American bands into Britain in the face of an EC resolution which suggests visits from American bands would increase the interest in dance music.